Sustainable livelihoods through collective savings and microbusiness in Cambodia

In partnership with Live & Learn Cambodia


The project aims to build local capacity to reduce poverty through the strengthening 17 Self Help Groups, 2 Saving Group Federations, and the establishment of 09 Community Based Organisations (CBOs), in 5 villages in Trapeang Roung and 4 villages in Phat Sanday communes, Cambodia.

Phat Sanday Commune (PSD)

PSD has a total population of 5,505 people, 53% female, and 1,158 households residing in 5 floating villages. There are 2,750 children aged 6 -17 years. Illiteracy rates are 23.5% for adults and approximately 20% for children.

Community members rely on fishing as their main source of income but the Tonle Sap Lake ecosystem is under serious threat from deforestation and poor water quality due to faeces and waste directly disposed into the lake. Reduction in fish stock, and issues around water and sanitation are the most pressing issues facing people in PSD.

Community development is restrained by lack of alternative income opportunities, water pollution and poor health due to unsafe sanitation practices. They are also without appropriate and affordable options such as water filters, toilets or other technologies to address the issues.

Trapeang Roung Commune (TPR)

TPR, located in the Southern Cardamoms Mountains, is one of the last remaining wildlife corridors in Asia. Threats to the biodiversity of the region include habitat loss due to illegal logging, wildlife poaching, and fire from slash-and-burn agriculture. 

Low education levels, poverty and lack of employment options are resulting in degradation of the natural environment. Communities require opportunities to generate environmentally sustainable incomes to improve their standard of living.

General background

In both TPR and PSD, low levels of literacy still exist for adults and children, especially in remote communities with poor access to services. In some instances, school buildings are in disrepair, there is a shortage of skilled teachers, and limited job opportunities for youth.

Some communities are unable to access public education due to poverty, limited schools, access and resources. Children from poor families often spend time helping to take care of smaller sibling while parents are away for work. They frequently take on routine household chores and work fishing.

High levels of poverty, low education levels and lack of employment options are resulting in the over- dependence and degradation of the natural environment. It is widely acknowledged that these communities require opportunities to generate environmentally sustainable incomes to increase their standard of living.

Project approach – Self Help Groups

Live & Learn Cambodia and Assisi Aid Projects have been working in PSD and TPR communes since 2010, providing education opportunities for poor children to attend tuition classes and improving livelihoods in the local community through collective savings groups and microbusiness activities.

The 2016/17 project design was based on a participatory and consultative approach, and therefore focuses on representing the communities’ needs and priorities. The issues, proposed interventions and inputs were collected through consultations with the target communities and included discussions with relevant stakeholders, such as the provincial Department of Education, local authorities, schoolteachers, parents, community groups, district offices and Commune Councils and Commune Chiefs.

A Self Help Group (SHG) is a small, autonomous community collective that comes together voluntarily to work for their mutual personal, social and economic development. The SHG present a vehicle for social and personal development within each village including awareness raising activities on topics such as literacy, education, family planning, health, sanitation, livelihood options and environmental awareness. A key function of a SHG is the establishment of a ‘Savings Club’ in which community members pool their savings. The funds can then be drawn upon by members as small ‘loans’ to establish or upscale small businesses.

This year, also sees the establishment of 9 Community Based Organisations (CBOs). The 9 CBOs  will be trained to partner with local authorities, government technical experts, and other stakeholders within their communities so they can facilitate their own, locally relevant development initiatives. This approach aims to support long term change in the community through improving engagement between community and with local governments, especially the Commune Council, – and in turn create accountability.

This project consists of 6 key strategies:

  1. Strengthening of community-based and gender inclusive ‘Self-Help Groups’ (SHG)
  2. Community empowerment through community based organisations (CBOs)
  3. Sustainable livelihoods and increased incomes
  4. Build capacity for women in leadership positions
  5. Improve community WASH in floating communities
  6. To improve child education through children’s tuition classes

1: Strengthen community access to self-managed funds.

The project supports training for 17 Savings Groups, enabling 359 members pool funds, earn interest and take low interest loans of 2% for income generation activities. This year, the 2 Federation Groups will be trained to take over the management and training of Savings Groups (from Live & Learn), promoting self-reliance.

2: Community empowerment through Community Based Organisations (CBO)

  • 09 CBO groups will be set-up and provided intensive training to facilitate their own, locally determined development projects. This approach aims to support long-term change through building local capacity, as well as improving engagement between community and local governments, especially the Commune Council – and in turn improve accountability.
  • CBO members will include Savings Group members, Model Farmers, tuition teachers and the ecotourism group.  
  • CBOs will be trained in: governance, leadership, project identification, planning, risk mitigation, implementation, and financial management. All stages of the CBO set-up will be managed and monitored by Live & Learn.

Thematic areas for CBO projects include:

  • Set-up sustainable businesses for income generation
  • Works to improve water management, e.g. irrigation, or canal
  • Natural resource management, e.g. Lake conservation to improve fish stocks
  • Innovative agriculture or demonstrations, g. Piloting of short-term rice varieties

3: Sustainable livelihoods and increased incomes.

  • The project will provide technical skill training and business education to encourage the diversification of livelihood activities.
  • Alternative livelihood options include post-harvest management of fish and vegetable products, micro business/trading skills, climate smart agriculture and marketing training.

4: Build capacity for women in leadership.

  • Women will be mentored to take leadership positions in CBOs and trained in local governance, to encourage participation in Commune level decision-making.

5: Improve community WASH in PSD

  • The Floating Community Learning Centre, built in 2015/16 contains 2 demonstration toilets, which will become the focal point for WASH education on the lake. The Center will be used for tuition classes, community training, and fitted with solar lighting and education materials.
  • An animation will be developed to highlight the link between – open defecation – water quality – and illness.
  • Further research will be conducted into a more economical floating biodigester toilet for PSD.

6: To improve child education

  • 16 Tuition classes continue to improve education levels for ~270 children, identified as falling behind in formal education.
  • Tuition teachers will participate in pedagogical training to improve teaching ability as well as environmental education, WASH, child rights and gender equality.

For further information on this project please contact Assisi.

Updated December, 2016